Passbook

Today I am in the town of Hulahula, day 9 of 23!

Here’s a challenge for you: how should people in savings groups, where members contribute a certain amount of money each month as savings, keep track of how much everyone has saved when most of the members are illiterate?

Answering this question was one of the tasks I was charged with, in developing a series of training sessions for the entrepreneurs with whom we work. All of the women are numerate, but only some have literacy. Borrowing from some other organizations, here is the method we are looking at using:

Every week, the women contribute a certain multiple of shillings. They either need to bring 200, 400, 600, 800 or 1,000 shillings. (A US Dollar is about 85 shillings). Every 200 shillings represents a “share” that the member has bought. We use what is called a passbook, where a stamp or mark is made for every contribution. So for instance, say I am an entrepreneur in the group, I have a page in a book (kept with the money in a lockbox) that shows my savings. Say the first month, I save 400 shillings. Then in my book, I would get two stamps in the first row.

Say the next month, I am quite successful in my business, and I have 1,000 shillings to save. I get five stamps in my book, to represent the five shares I have bought.

Now, suppose it is a month later, and I had some trouble with my business. In fact, I want to withdraw 600 shillings. I have the option of “selling back” my shares, and getting my 600 shillings back. A line is drawn to show I didn’t contribute this month, and three of my shares are crossed out to show that I have sold them back.

Even if I cannot read, I can tell exactly how much I have contributed. I still have four shares, so 800 shillings that the group has (either in the lockbox or loaned out) belongs to me.

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